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Weak Charter School Law Works Against Taxpayers’ Interests

By   /   December 2, 2010  /   1 Comment

Kansas taxpayers want charter schools but the state’s charter school law is one of the weakest in the U.S.

Voters in Kansas favor expanding school choice according to a survey released Nov. 29 by the Foundation for Educational Choice. the survey found that 62 percent of Kansas voters favored charter schools and only 20 percent said they opposed charters.

In a preview of a report to be published in January, the Center for Education Reform gave Kansas an F for the state’s charter school law. The Kansas law earned only eight of a possible 55 points in the evaluation. Actually, Kansas garnered 11 points but was penalized three for poor implementation of the law.

The report evaluated 40 states (plus the District of Columbia) that allow for charter schools. Only Iowa, Virginia and Mississippi received lower scores than Kansas.

Kansas also received poor marks for the state’s charter school law in a competition for federal Race to the Top dollars earlier this year. The U.S. Department of Education cited the state’s poor charter school situation, among other problems, in denying its application.

Charter schools have received unprecedented attention in the last year because of the $4.3 billion federal Race to the Top program, documentary movies including Waiting for Superman and The Lottery, attention from Oprah Winfrey and network news shows.

How Kansas earned an F

Kansas earned 10 points, the maximum, for the number of charter schools allowed in the state but that’s the end of the good news. Kansas received only one point out of 15 for allowing entities other than school districts to create and manage charter schools independently. In Kansas charter schools must be approved by the local school district, a process akin to asking McDonalds to approve construction of a Burger King next door.

Zero points were awarded for the autonomy of charter schools under the law. The study looked at charters’ independence from existing state and district operational rules and procedures and the charter school’s freedom from collective bargaining requirements.

USD500, Kansas City, revoked the charter of the Maurice Holman Academy for Excellence at the end of the 2009-10 school year. the district’s recommendation to revoke the charter said:

“Regrettably, the Maurice Holman Charter School has not made progress in achieving the program goals contained in the charter and has not complied with fiscal accountability procedures as specified in the charter despite good faith efforts for all concerned.”

During the school’s two years of operation the district dramatically increased class sizes, delayed implementation of promised curricula, hired a new principal and demanded that charter organizers raise more money, all without input from the charter organizers.

Chiquita Coggs wrote Holman Academy’s charter. She told Kansas Watchdog in June 2009 that USD500 was not letting the school fulfill its charter obligations and was making Holman just like other district schools. “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” she said. ”How can they give us the same curriculum and learning environment that exists in the rest of the district and expect us to be different?”

Coggs is now serving on Governor-elect Sam Brownback’s transition team.

The Center for Education Reform also awarded Kansas zero points for fiscal equity in the state’s charter law. A good law, according to the study, “requires that the amount of money allotted for each charter school student is the same and the monies charter schools receive come from the same funding streams as all other public schools.”

Those earning strong A’s in the report (the District of Columbia, Minnesota and California) share several important characteristics in charter school law according to the report:

  1. Set charter schools aside in creation and oversight from the conventional system.
  2. Ensure that the same amount of money allotted for one child’s education in a state follows that child to the school of choice — entirely.
  3. Permit distinct, independent entities to open schools and hold them accountable for both growing charter schools that are great and closing those that are not.
  4. Educate children well and add value every year to the learning they receive.
  5. Do not require adherence to the same failed layers of oversight and bureaucracy that have hindered progress in our conventional public schools.

The report’s authors say that, “Without a dramatic strengthening of charter school laws across America — a possibility in January when new legislative sessions commence — there is simply no way to ‘scale up’ the charter school progress highlighted by the media and lawmakers this year.”

According to KSDE Kansas currently has 25 charter schools in operation, down from 35 a year ago.

What Kansas voters say about K-12 education

The Foundation for Educational Choice survey, conducted by Braun Research Incorporated (BRI), is based on phone interviews with more than 600 registered voters in each of six states: Alabama; Arkansas; Kansas, Mississippi; New Jersey; and New York.

The survey examined how the six states compare with one another on 19 substantive questions and 13 demographic questions.

Kansans participating in the survey were more likely than other state’s respondents to say education in their state was on the right track, but were far off the mark when asked how much is spent on each public school student’s annual education.

Only 10 percent were able to approximate the actual per pupil spending. This mirrors findings from a survey conducted for the Kansas Policy Institute in April.

Survey participants from Kansas performed better than other states at naming the correct high school graduation rate, underestimating Education Week’s Cumulative Promotion Index (CPI) graduation rate of 75.1 percent for 2007 by just one point. KSDE reported an 89.2 percent graduation rate for the same year.

According to the survey Kansas 56 percent of surveyed voters favored tax credit scholarships, 29% opposed. Similarly, 57 % favored vouchers and 36% opposed.

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Center for Education Reform: 2011 Charter school Laws Ranking and Scorcard (pdf)

Foundation for Educational Choice: What Do Voters Say About K-12 Education in Six States?

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Paul formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.